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America's Cup Rialto: January 29 - "The hardest day we have ever sailed these boats" - Bruni

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 29 Jan 23:50 NZDT 29 January 2021
Luna Rossa - Waitemata Harbour - January 29, - Prada Cup - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Luna Rossa joint helmsman Francesco Bruni summed up the first day of the Semi-Finals for the Prada Cup: "Today was the hardest conditions in which we have sailed these boats. There was a lot of wind, big puffs and there were times we were over the wind limit. It wasn't easy for us. It wasn't easy for them," he said with a nod to American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson sitting to his left at the post-race media conference.

It came as a surprise that there was any racing at all, dialing into the Observations function of Predictwind, in the couple of hours leading up to the start of the race it was a mass of orange and red "traffic lights" indicating that the wind was over 23 knots on average and in most location was gusting over 30kts. That was well above the pre-start limit of 21.5kts.

However out on the course location off North Head and on the Stadium course, the wind appeared to soften slightly - and that allowed the start to proceed, without tripping the 21.5kt average measured over 30 seconds trigger.

While American Magic did not win a race today, just getting getting their AC75, Patriot, around the 16 course legs without another disaster, is a significant achievement for the US team as they bounce back from the capsize on the final leg of Race 6 in the Round Robins, 12 days ago.

On the water it was quite a different picture from the glib portrayal on the various TV broadcasts.

The SSW wind was very streaky, with plenty of pressure visible delineated almost with hard lines on the water. To confuse the issue still further there was plenty of cloud around causing a camouflaged effect, on the water, for those charged with wind spotting duty on foiling monohulls.

It was to be expected that Patriot would have some control issues, having been launched only on Wednesday - when winds were light, until very late in the afternoon. On Thursday there was more breeze, but to expect a flawless performance from the American Magic crew on a day as tough today, is simply unrealistic.

As it was the conditions only served to highlight and magnify any shortcomings on either boat and crew.

Today we saw American Magic use their "Batwing" mainsail for the first time in the regatta. In the media conference, Terry Hutchinson claimed it was the right sail based on the testing they had done. "It is lower windage. It generates the same amount of power for lower aero-drag. Between Jordi Calafat and Richard Bouzaid, they did some deep analysis into the Class Rule and came up with the concept. The whole idea is just to reduce drag", he added. The batwing mainsail has a different shaped leach profile at the head of the sail, and has the batten pockets extending beyond the edge of the sail. From what we've seen the team has two of the mainsails. One used in training had the whole leach reshaped to test the batwing concept, before a second sail was built.

The sail is definitely a heavy air option, and from what we've seen previously the reduced sail area in the head makes the AC75 a lot easier to handle and to sail right to the limit.

With the choice of the batwing mainsail, and a small jib for the first race, Patriot appeared to run counter to the usual racing maxim of rigging for the lulls and not the gusts.

Luna Rossa appeared to follow convention, and had a nice looking mainsail and jib combination, which would have given more power in the lulls than the batwing main and small jib of Patriot. Both teams changed to bigger jibs for the second race as the breeze lightened further.

The first qualified finalist, INEOS Team UK was on the racecourse, as they are entitled to do until 25 minutes before the start of the first race of the day.

The Ben Ainslie led team towed out and was the first to go sailing when the breeze was up. The Brits looked good upwind, doing a couple of runs up the course and through the start area before exiting stage left, the required 25 minutes before the start of racing.

The forecast for Saturday is for light sea breezes. Patriot has to win at least one race to stay in the America's Cup, otherwise they will be the first team to be eliminated.

In some ways their situation is similar to Artemis Racing in the 2017 America's Cup, who were down 3-1 to Softbank Team Japan in the first to five wins series, but came back to win 5-3 and took on Emirates Team New Zealand in the Challenger Final. Ironically Dean Barker was skipper of the Japanese team in that series.

As matters stand, and all not going well for American Magic on Saturday, they will be out by Saturday night, having had just seven days of racing.

At the other extreme in Fremantle in the 1986/87 America's Cup regattas, the Round Robin phase lasted three months and each Challenger sailed 34 races, before a four day Semi-Final and five day Final series.

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